This past week a camp was organized for high school students in the area who are or will be taking Native Studies. It was held at a camp on the Ottawa River, about an hour west of the city. Teachers and students gathered to learn from Aboriginal and Inuit people about various cultural practices such as smudging, talking circles, sweat lodges, Inuit Throat singing, drumming and games, and more. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend. Not only would I get to be out in the woods for two days, but I'd get to learn and experience more about FN people and ways of life.
Highlights of the two days included interacting with staff and students outside of the stuffy classroom environment, sharing meals together, laughing, camp fires, and watching young people open themselves up to a culture that for most, was quite different than their own. I got to watch my own students open up and teach their peers about their background. I listened to beautiful singing and drumming by my colleague.
The most special part was listening to a 96 year old Elder speak. Grandfather William shared about sustainability and going back to the ways of the past. He prayed to the Creator that we would save this earth, that healing would come. He spoke of respect, one of the Seven Grandfather Teachings. Respect of self, of each other, and the world we live in. Never have I seen a group of teenagers more quiet, more respectful, than in this room listening to the Grandfather. It was hot in that room, but no one was complaining. Just open ears to hear the wisdom of nearly a century's worth life experience.
I went to thank him for sharing. I had no tobacco tie to offer, as others were giving. He said that was okay. He held my hand and I knelt beside him and he talked about the water. The water is being polluted he said, and we need to take care of it, to respect it, to heal it. I promised him I would try and I would encourage others to do the same.
There's something about old people. About people who are closer to death than we are. Like they know something we don't (and they know lots of things we don't!!). Why oh why is Western culture so anti-aging? This man was so special. Every wrinkle on his face tells a story. Every spot, gray hair - his quiet voice pulls you in closer to hear. I wish we all had more respect.
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